CFP: Edith Wharton Society at ALA in Boston

Edith Wharton Society Call for Papers

American Literature Association

May 27-30, 2021 Boston, MA

Reading Edith Wharton at Times of Crisis: Precarity, Vulnerability, and Risk

The COVID-19 pandemic has culminated a global state of crisis, deeply defined by the inability to secure a future in either individual or collective terms. As we are grappling with the anxieties of biological, economic, and political survival, we are called to redefine the grounds—and the possibility—of security, permanence, longevity, and tradition. Throughout her work, Wharton has examined such questions across classes, genders, races, ages, and cultures. What do her works teach us about the current “crisis,” and, conversely, how can we re-examine her works in light of a pandemic and the ensuing circumstances of vulnerability and risk? As Judith Butler has argued in Frames of War, the precariousness of life is shared by all but the “precarity” of survival is unequally distributed among those who are most imperiled or disenfranchised.

This panel invites papers that explore how Wharton represents different forms of precarity, vulnerability, and risk throughout her fiction, poetry, drama, as well as non-fiction (e.g. travel writing, letters, essays). Panelists might consider (but are not limited to) the following topics:

  • How does Wharton represent the biopolitics of illness and death?
  • How is precarity inflected by race, ethnicity, gender, ability, and age?
  • What are the intersections of precarity, class, and capitalist risk?
  • Is risk endemic to Wharton’s representation of American culture and how does this contrast with her views on permanence and tradition (especially in an international context)?
  • What narrative forms, tropes, and genres does Wharton choose to register motifs of precarity and risk?
  • How does Wharton represent the precarity of military conflict and colonial regimes?

All theoretical approaches are welcome, and panelists are encouraged to consider more than one of Wharton’s works, if possible. Please submit titled proposals (approx. 350 words) and a brief CV by January 15, 2021 to Myrto Drizou at Please include any requests for AV needs in your proposal. Scholars whose proposals are accepted must be members in good standing of the Edith Wharton Society by the time of the conference. More details about the format of the conference are to be announced by the American Literature Association in the coming months.